Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is Armond White a troll?

So, Armond White of the New York Press wrote a negative review of District 9. No biggie: not everyone loves the same movies, and there’re always gonna be a few critics who buck trends and revile a film that almost everyone else, to varying degrees, loves.

The thing is, fans have been noticing that White is almost always that contrarian.

Roger Ebert initially posted a defense of White’s review of D9, but then he was compelled to retract it:

On Thursday night I posted in entry in defense of Armond White’s review of “District 9.” Overnight I received reader comments causing me to rethink that entry, in particular this eye-popping link supplied by Wes Lawson. I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2” but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.

(Ebert says his original defense of White’s review still stands, and it follows at the same link.)
That eye-popping link Ebert refers to leads to this image, a very succinct summary of Armond White’s opinions on film:

Just so we don’t get sidetracked: this isn’t about freedom of speech or “everybody’s entitled to their opinion.” No one is suggesting that Armond White should be denied his freedom of speech, or that he isn’t entitled to his opinion. It’s also preposterous to suggest — as some Rotten Tomatoes commenters on White’s review of District 9 imply — that he spoiled the film’s perfect Tomatometer rating; no film is entitled to a perfect Tomatometer rating.

The question is, Does Armond White go out of his way to play devil’s advocate? Should we trust that his reviews represent his genuine opinion or merely a desire to poke the tiger of online film fandom?

Christopher Campbell at Spoutblog offers a defense of White that pretty much mirrors my opinion on the matter:

Certainly White gets a lot of notice and publicity for his opinions, too, but the important thing is that he’s an interesting read, and not just for how against-the-grain he is. Even if he is ever intentionally anti-majority just to be anti-majority, he presents reasonable arguments and raises necessary points while doing so. Besides, does anyone really want to live in a world where everybody likes District 9 or Up or The Dark Knight and where nobody has anything fresh, smart and positive to say about Transformers 2? How boring that world would be.

I agree that would be boring. I would hope, however, that anyone offering contrarian opinions would actually hold those opinions, and not just be trying to get some attention by voicing them.

What do you think? Is Armond White a troll?

(FYI, my review of District 9 is here.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
  • David Cornelius

    It’d be one thing if White legitimately offered solid arguments behind his opinions. But too often his raves over obvious crap (Norbit, Little Man, etc.) read like parodies of film criticism – overblown, too-serious clinical interpretations of bad comedy. He adds nothing to the discussion because rather than make us reconsider our own stance on a title, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering if White’s just messing with us for fun.

    He also has a tendency to misread films, and while it’s great fun to dive into a well-written contrary take from someone who understands the material, White often comes off as the guy who doesn’t “get it.” Again, such things add nothing of value to the discussion.

  • David Cornelius

    Oh, and of course I loathe the common accusation that a contrarian critic is out for publicity or hoping to raise a scene. Which is what makes White so frustrating – if he’s not trying to be goofy, then what’s going on in that brain of his?

  • Brian

    Being something of a data geek, I would love to see a graphical plot of movies’ Tomatometer scores vs. Mr. White’s opinions of them — and perhaps to run the same comparisons with several other critics. See who’s really the most and least predictable.

    I wonder, though, how much a persona like Mr. White’s ends up being defined by how people react to him. Once you have the reputation of being an iconoclast, do you lose street cred if you start agreeing with people too often?

  • JoshB

    Whether he’s a troll or not, after looking through his reviews I can say that I have no use for him.

    re: G.I. Joe

    Its unabashed appeal to the pop-commercial synapses also demonstrates livelier filmmaking than such utter banality as Iron Man and Star Trek and Harry Potter’s Half-Blooded Chintz.

    I mean, really? Ok, so the dude likes G.I. Joe more than those movies. Different strokes, I guess. But to say that G.I. Joe is good while those other three movies have no redeeming value whatsoever?

    And he tips his hand by bashing other critics:

    The Jackpot (cashing in on the thrill-seeking curiosity of generations raised on popcorn and plastic) is a reality that today’s politically unconscious movie critics try to disavow when dismissing this brand of entertainment. With inconsistent and arbitrary affectation, they demean defensible movies like Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe as if to deny that what used to be called “mass culture” has, generally, lost its former standards. It’s a self-protective reflex by which they’ll praise undistinguished junk…to defend Hollywood’s routine, commercial U.S.S. Enterprises.

    This is Armond White saying that it is other critics who are insincere (inconsistent and arbitrary affectation – projecting much?) because they disliked Transformers 2.

  • Saladinho

    The guy said Twilight’s better than Let the Right One In. Sincere or not, he’s an idiot.

  • Saladinho

    He called the two girls from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days “abortionhorny.” Okay, I have to stop reading his reviews now…

  • Cate

    Except he liked Dark Matter. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, it was a Sundance movie a couple years ago with Meryl Streep that I really liked A LOT. Or maybe it’s a different movie with the same title.

    That list, though, it does make quite the argument for the guy being contrary just for the sake of contrariness. Which is fine, I guess. He’s entitled to think that District 9 sucks and I’m entitled to think he’s a freaking idiot who wouldn’t know a good film if it hit him upside the head.

  • I would have walked out of “You, the Living” and demanded my money back.

  • LaSargenta

    My experience of New York Press in general — stretching back to when it was a freebie only available at fledgling boho-yuppie East Village bars in the ‘eighties — is that nearly everyone in there is a professional misogynist contrarian who sees himself (usually was a “him”) as a ultra-cool curmudgeon and misanthrope while just writing the biggest pile of crap possible using $64 words. Eventually one realised they were mostly trustifarians from NYU.

    I don’t trust any of their opinions, even when I find one interesting.

  • Robert McCoy

    Having never read Mr. White’s work, I clicked the thread and read his review of District 9. Wow. He claims things in the film are ridiculous but never says why they’re ridiculous (for Christ’s sake, every aspect of GI Joe and Transformers 2 are ridiculous.) He combines hipster arrogance w/ juvenile name calling. The whole review seems to be an excuse to show off his supposed knowledge of South African history. This, by implication, means he’s more knowledgeable than the actual South Africans involved w/ the film. I don’t care if he’s playing possum or not, he’s a wanker.

  • Paul

    I was under the impression that a “troll” was paid. If so, then his list of movies he liked would be a lot longer because no one is going to pay a guy to trash a film, right?

    Besides, I went through a phase where I argued with people for the sake of arguing, as have some of my best friends. It was an early stage of anti-conformity. I think it is a lot more likely that Arnold is a college student who doesn’t have to work to pay his way through, so he kills time by trying to prove he is smarter than the critics. I suppose if he has to pick a fight, it should be with people well armed to fight back.

  • Fett101

    Eh, Paul?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armond_White

    “Armond White is a New York-based film critic, based at the alt-weekly New York Press. Recipient of a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, he has authored two books on popular culture. White won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Music Criticism in 1996. He was recently re-elected as Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, a post he held in 1994. White has served on juries at the Sundance Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and several National Endowment for the Arts panels. His reviews for New York Press, Film Comment and The City Sun have been discussed in The New York Times, Time magazine, Cineaste and Sight and Sound and the web magazine Senses of Cinema.”

  • I don’t object to contrarianism so much as the idea of insincere film criticism, or criticism written with ulterior motives. Which, I guess, describes most contrarianism anyway.

    However, I also get annoyed when that one guy pops up who hated The Dark Knight or Up (both of which I love, for the record) and gets lambasted by screaming idiots–the “spoiled our perfect tomatometer rating” thing MaryAnn alludes to. These are insanely popular, well-recieved movies, does it really matter that there’s one or two people out there who don’t love it?

    This also goes for people who go to see big-budget movies multiple times just because they have some bizarre investment in watching the film break box office records. This happened with The Dark Knight, again, and it was silly.

  • Jolly

    I’m not convinced that White is a troll, though I think he is pompous and often an ass. He seems to have a particular view on modern culture which informs his reviews. In this regard, he is similar to James Bowman, who writes his reviews from a conservative perspective. I doubt Bowman would fare fare better than White if one were to compare his ratings to the RT “consensus,” as he tends to give negative reviews to many “mainstream” favorites. However, Bowman writes for a conservative magazine (American Spectator), where his audience is likely to share many of his outlooks. Since Bowman is not on RT, compromising the “integrity” of the Tomato-meter, he’s largely ignored by the same crowd that’s howling for White’s removal.

  • Mathias

    This is an easy one MaryAnn.

    The answer is yes.

  • MaryAnn

    I was under the impression that a “troll” was paid.

    No, trolls are merely people who enjoy riling others up online for the sake of seeing them get pissed off.

    I think it is a lot more likely that Arnold is a college student who doesn’t have to work to pay his way through

    I have no idea what White’s financial situation is, or how well the *New York Press* pays (not well, I’d guess), but I can assure you that White is considerable older than college age: 40s, at least, perhaps older. (I see him at screenings all the time.)

  • Ted E.

    Maryann,

    I love ya, but I have to disagree with Christopher Campbell’s assessment of Armond’s writing. Armond generally does NOT present reasonable arguments to support his opinions. In fact, he is (in)famous for his manic prose, inconsistent logic, politically driven conclusions, and random pop culture tangents. He writes as if he is the sole arbiter of taste in world full of idiots, and anyone who disagrees is either ignorant or juvenile. Don’t take our word for it; just read his reviews.

    But the bigger issue is encapsulated in your closing thoughts: Is Armond White sincere in his opinions? The general concensus, even among Armond-supporters, is that he probably is not sincere all the time. He enjoys taking the contrarian stance merely to place himself at the center of controversy. Armond has an agenda and follows a predictable pattern: With the exception of smaller art house films, he can be relied upon to write whatever’s necessary to upset the largest number of people, thereby increasing his page hits.

    That is the root of this controversy that started on Rotten Tomatoes. This really has little to do with District 9 per se. The only reason why D9 forums became the initial battle ground was because the Rotten Tomato admins actually posted a defense of Armond there, saying they “love” having him around. To many, this was confirmation that all was well for RT and Armond as long as it resulted in more page hits (and ad revenue). Sincerity and journalistic integrity have become secondary concerns. It was a troubling revelation.

    That Good Movie/Bad Movie list may be an oversimplification of the problem, but no one has argued that it’s inaccurate. Armond has hated every Pixar movie and called The Dark Knight “the sentinel of our cultural abyss.” Criticizing popular movies is no crime in itself, but doing so while championing stinkers such as Norbit, Transformers 2, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (calling it a “modern classic”) is just jaw-dropping.

    Another poster said it perfectly: (To paraphrase) Someone should break into Armond’s house and look at his DVD collection. If he has a copy of Norbit in that stack, I’ll eat my hat.

  • Fett101

    Armond has hated every Pixar movie

    His review of Wall-E said that he like Ratatouille. Then again, I can’t find a review of Ratatouille by him anywhere. Go fig.

  • Man… after reading through all these links, I kinda like this guy. He’s a hell of a good writer, and unlike so many assholes on the internet, at least he’s an asshole with something interesting to say.

    Besides, trolls never make good points to back up their negativity, they just stab randomly until they hit a soft spot. This ain’t that.

  • Jolly

    What amuses me about so many of his detractors is their inability to see reviews in any terms other than binary. As far as I can tell, White never actually uses any kind of rating system on the nypress.com site. And though he’s been called out for calling G.I.Joe a “good” movie, he repeatedly indicates in his review that it is a “junk movie.” White spends a good chunk of the review admonishing other critics by suggesting that they only recognize this because of the “product tie-in,” while, in his opinion, seemingly failing to acknowledge the same qualities in other movies that he views as equally “junky.” Two reoccurring themes in his reviews are the views that popular culture is in decline and that critics have either acquiesced or participated (knowingly or unknowingly) in the decline. Given incoherent ramblings about how movie critics should be “impartial,” when the adage about all art being inherently political is no cliche, suggests to me that he’s not entirely wrong about the culture.

  • David Cornelius

    Being something of a data geek, I would love to see a graphical plot of movies’ Tomatometer scores vs. Mr. White’s opinions of them — and perhaps to run the same comparisons with several other critics. See who’s really the most and least predictable.

    RT offers comparisons on every critic’s page. On White’s page, for example, right under his name is the note that he “Agrees with the Tomatometer 50% of the time.” Then, with every linked review, the site offers both his rating and the Tomatometer rating, so you can see when he’s matching and when he’s not while also seeing how the percentage of other critics who agree/disagree with him.

    With enough legwork, you could probably figure out which critics have the highest/lowest “agrees with the T-Meter” percentage.

  • Paul

    While I accept correction concerning his actual age and profession, it might be that deep down in his heart he’s still the annoying college kid he’s acting like.

  • Scratched

    My reaction from Arnold’s list is that I was afraid my favorite movies: Hunger, The Wrestler, Gran Torino, Let the Right One In, Frozen River, In Bruges and 4 month, 3 weeks & 2 days would appear on his Good List.

    It’s actually very good to see most of them on his Bad List. I’ll hope Let the Right One In will appear there too.

    That’s what I think of him.

  • MBI

    Honestly, I don’t mind that my taste differs from his (and some of the films on his bad list are on mine too), but I just don’t find him useful. His values are obscenely different from mine, and I don’t find him that interesting a writer. I don’t agree with Maryann a lot either, or Ebert for that matter, but they’re good writers. I disagree with the good people at Film Freak Central a good deal too, but they go out of their way to justify their opinions and build a solid argument, one that’s worth arguing against, whereas with White, I’m usually utterly mystified in how he comes to his conclusions. He’s either stupid or deranged, and either way I have no use for a guy like that.

    At some forums I visit, the ultimate insult to a movie is that it’s so bad “not even Armond White likes it”.

  • MBI

    Oh, and his constant bashing of the critical consensus is beyond irritating. That’s a chip on his shoulder he needs to be rid of.

  • Anthony L.

    Regarding Jolly’s earlier claim that Armond detractors only see in binary, while Mr. White himself shows a more even-handed approach…

    I call B.S. on that.

    The fact that Armond just happened to call G.I. Joe a “junk” movie while extolling its many alleged qualities does not suddenly make him an impartial film critic. He is, in fact, famously known for his wildly disparate love or hate for a particular movie based on a single facet of its production, which he then follows by insulting anyone who might disagree with him. Try reading his review of Transformers 2 or The Dark Knight. And if you really want to get an idea of what a mystifyingly bad writer Armond can be, try to figure out what the heck he’s talking about in his Hellboy 2 review.

    If anyone should be blamed for making this a black or white issue (no pun intended), it’s the website Rotten Tomatoes. Their use of the Fresh/Rotten grading system leaves little or no room for the middle ground, where most movies surely fall. Apparently, even Roger Ebert has often expressed his dislike of the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down system and was glad to give it up. Metacritic has a far better system.

  • anyonymous

    Hey Maryann! I just wanted to share an excerpt from a comment that appeared on Roger Eberts blog. I didn’t write this, but I found it to be such a well-written summary of the Armond White problem, I had to share it here. I would give more credit to the author, but he only identifies himself as “Chris”…

    “As you have likely discovered by now or have been informed by others, it is not simply that he often disagrees with the majority, but the reactionary and transparent way in which he does it. Anyone who follows his reviews and has even a lick of common sense can see just how calculated he is – if a film garners heavy and widespread critical acclaim or hype before he reviews it, you can virtually guarantee that he’ll come down on the other side. It’s like turning on FOX when Sean Hannity’s on – you know what he’s going to say before he says it. The only surprise is just what inane rationale they (White and Hannity) are going to use.

    He seems to have a pathological need to separate himself from virtually everyone else. Consider his review of “The Hurt Locker” – he reviewed it back in June, before it had become so well-known in the mainstream. He said it was a great movie. He was extremely enthusiastic in his acclaim. Now, in his complimentary review of “G.I. Joe,” he says that “The Hurt Locker” is now “overrated,” and even worse, says that “there is more realpolitik [in GI Joe]” than in The Hurt Locker – as if such a comparison has anything to do with anything.

    White is a knee-jerk contrarian and nothing more – the fact that he’s observant and intelligent only makes it worse, because he can always make his argument SOUND good. But it’s all too easy to see right through him. If a movie gets great word of mouth ahead of time (say, from film festivals, or from a lot of early reviews thanks to advance screenings), he’s sure to hate it (classic examples just this year – Up, In the Loop, Hunger, The Class, 500 Days of Summer, Sugar, Star Trek, Gomorrah, and now District 9 – and the timing of each review was oh-so-conspicuous); and on the same token, if a particular film is greeted with the kind of hatred that was [deservedly] leveled on the likes of “Transformers 2,” he’s bound to rise to defend it against what he would call the critical “elite.” (Sound familiar?) It’s as if he feels that, simply by doing this, he is Making A Point – and that congratulations must be in order for him.”

    I couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Jolly

    Regarding Jolly’s earlier claim that Armond detractors only see in binary, while Mr. White himself shows a more even-handed approach…

    I don’t believe I ever described Armond’s approach as even-handed. See the part above where I describe White as “pompous” and “an ass.” Otherwise, I think I can safely conclude that we’re in disagreement about what film criticism should be about. I don’t think critics can or should be “impartial.” I think it’s naive to think that movies can be evaluated independently of one’s politics and values. Critics should make it clear what their views are, so the reader knows where they’re coming from.

    I also don’t think the critic should be required to summarize her review with a numerical rating. The reader should be able to figure out whether the critic liked the movie, and why or why not, from reading the review. The so-called consensus on either RT or metacritic is largely meaningless, since a multitude of reasons will be offered for liking or disliking a particular film.

  • tomservo

    I keep reading people claim White is “intelligent,” “observant,” or, even, “a great writer.” Having recently read several of his reviews, I have yet to see any evidence to back those claims up.

  • The more posts I read on this thread, the more I keep expecting Charlie Sheen to show up and ask Jennifer Grey why she cares so much about what Armond White does…

    And no, I’m not saying that to be trollish.

    However, there are so many people out there saying horrible things that it seems a shame to make such a fuss about a guy whose worst sin appears to be not liking the same type of movies everyone else likes.

  • Jennifer A.

    [I]t seems a shame to make such a fuss about a guy whose worst sin appears to be not liking the same type of movies everyone else likes.

    I’d say the worst sin is being committed by people who have been posting their support or criticism of Armond White even though they have never even read one of his reviews.

  • Mathias

    Gee, i wonder what Armond thought about this film? ;)

    http://www.nypress.com/article-20225-nazi-junkie-jamboree.html

    As a fellow critic MaryAnn, what do you think of him?

  • JoshB

    The more posts I read on this thread, the more I keep expecting Charlie Sheen to show up and ask Jennifer Grey why she cares so much about what Armond White does…

    And in this case, Jennifer Grey would answer: “Because the stated topic at hand is ‘Is Armond White a troll?'”

  • MaryAnn

    He writes as if he is the sole arbiter of taste in world full of idiots, and anyone who disagrees is either ignorant or juvenile.

    But isn’t that what I do, too? :->

    If anyone should be blamed for making this a black or white issue (no pun intended), it’s the website Rotten Tomatoes. Their use of the Fresh/Rotten grading system leaves little or no room for the middle ground, where most movies surely fall. Apparently, even Roger Ebert has often expressed his dislike of the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down system and was glad to give it up. Metacritic has a far better system.

    It *is* a bit frustrating, sometimes, when my reviews fall in the middle, trying to figure out whether I should call them “Fresh” or “Rotten” when I post my links at RT.

    I’ve lobbied Metacritic many times for inclusion in their rankings, and I always get the brushoff. They’re very print-heavy, and in fact the *only* outlet they survey that features only a single critic is Emanuel Levy’s… and he’s a former big name at *Variety.*

    As a fellow critic MaryAnn, what do you think of him?

    If I were looking for someone to use as a guide to movies I might like, I’d avoid him. I disagree *completely* with his assessment of *Inglourious Basterds,* and part of me wants to say that he must be willfully misreading QT to write what he does about the film. The other half of me, however, sees that it’s not impossible for someone with a radically different mindset than mine to write what he does about that particular film and honestly believe it.

    Honestly? I read very little film criticism. I’m too busy watching movies and writing my own.

  • Jurgan

    I’ve never read anything by Armond White- in fact, I’d never heard of him until a couple days ago, due to this controversy. I’d ask: what’s the difference between a troll and a devil’s advocate? There’s merit in always taking the unpopular side of an argument and doing your best to defend it. Such a system can advance the dialogue by saying what others wouldn’t think of. The only difference I can see is that a devil’s advocate would admit that’s what he was doing, while a troll would not. But if he admitted it, RT probably wouldn’t use him, so maybe there’s a mercenary aspect to it.

    Apparently, even Roger Ebert has often expressed his dislike of the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down system and was glad to give it up.

    Ebert’s never been fond of trying to reduce movies to a numeric rating, either, but stars are marketable, and he doesn’t feel like the hassle of trying to convince the Sun Times to let him drop them. Quoted from his review of Slither (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060330/REVIEWS/603300307/1023):

    Given my theory of the star rating system, which suggests movies should be rated by their genres, “Slither” gets two if “28 Days Later” gets three. On the other hand, “Basic Instinct 2” also opens today, and in the genre of slick and classy big-star thrillers, if “Fatal Attraction” gets 2-1/2 stars, then “Basic Instinct 2” gets 1-1/2. On the third hand, a lot of people would probably enjoy “Basic Instinct 2” more than “Slither.” One of these days, I’m going to have to take that star rating system and feed it to a meat-eating slime-slug.

  • JoshB

    But isn’t that what I do, too? :->

    xoxo =P

    I’d ask: what’s the difference between a troll and a devil’s advocate?

    A devil’s advocate will frame their arguments in a very calm, rational way, because they have no emotional investment in their position. This has value for the reasons you describe.

    A troll on the other hand will frame their argument in the most insolent way possible (while still being taken seriously by the opposition), because they love to piss people off. This has value because it can be damn funny if done well.

  • MrRickstur

    I think he’s rebelling just for the sake of rebelling, which makes him nothing more than an obnoxious troll..

Pin It on Pinterest